Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Conquering Fears

I chose to come to Martinique for many reasons.  Most of all, I wanted something that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced before.  I had studied abroad in France, so Europe was somewhat familiar to me.  I wanted to learn about different people and a different culture, and the Caribbean lifestyle seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.  Plus, the beaches and rum didn't sound too bad either...

One of my goals when coming to Martinique was to try new things and really force myself to step out of my comfort zone.  I have to say that within the past two months, I have definitely been doing that.

Traveling by myself to Puero Rico was the first step.  I had traveled alone before, but it was to an English-speaking country after I had been traveling in Europe for a while.  Pushing myself to go spend a couple of days in San Juan was my initial effort to see exactly how capable I am.  It didn't turn out perfectly, but I think that's the beauty of stepping outside your comfort zone: sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's not, but you always learn something about yourself in the end.

Streets in San Juan

One of the forts in San Juan

View out of the lookout hole

One of my good friends here is big into rock climbing.  When he first talked to me about it, I thought it sounded amazing, but I was also really hesitant to try it.  In case you don't know, I am not athletic in any way.  Climbing up a rock would normally sound scary and disastrous, but in Martinique, I'm finding that I'm much more courageous.  I went rock climbing the first opportunity I had, and it ended up being a lot of fun.  I'm sure it was the route I was on, but it was a lot easier than I had imagined.  I surprised myself.

I climbed up the pink rope in the center

Then this blue rope in the center

Several weeks ago, I had a few hours to spare before going to school, so I decided to grab a quick lunch.  Normally, I would simply buy a sandwich from somewhere, but on this day, I had decided to do something that I don't usually do: I went into a real restaurant and sat down alone.  No book, nothing but me.  It's such a small thing, but it made me feel very empowered.  

I did however, feel extremely embarrassed when at the end of the meal, the server told me that they didn't have a machine that could run my American credit card.  I didn't have any cash, so I had to walk about 15 minutes to the only ATM in the town to take out money, then return to pay for the meal I had just eaten.  So humiliating.  Now I've learned to always, always carry cash in my wallet, just in case.

Dining alone

Marlin, fries, and vegetables

Dealing with my car in Martinique has been a great accomplishment for me, and I still haven't been as proud of myself as when I went to get it fixed by myself.

But my most recent experience with stepping out of my comfort zone was probably the most challenging.  I had been invited to faire de la chasse sous-marine, or go underwater spear-gun fishing.  It sounded exciting, but inside I was secretly petrified to go.

When I was younger, I tried to go snorkeling once in Michigan in Long Lake near my house.  As soon as I put my head in the water, I would panic and not be able to breathe.  My uncle had told me that if I went in clearer waters (like in the Caribbean), I might react differently.

That was a long time ago, so I decided that I wanted to try it again.  I bought a snorkel mask and flippers, borrowed a bodysuit, and found myself at the beach on Sunday about to test out my uncle's theory.

Again, I found myself struggling as soon as I put my head in the water.  My lungs seemed to shut off and it was almost as if I had entirely forgotten how to breathe.  But instead of letting panic take over, I kept trying.  I controlled my breathing and calmed down my thoughts.  In a few short minutes, I was able to successfully breathe through my snorkel without freaking out.

We swam quite far, and I was proud of myself for conquering one of my fears.  I got to see some beautiful fish and fascinating corals.  There is one type of coral that I think is called fire coral, and if you touch it, it stings/burns you.  When I did a little research, it turns out that it's not actually a coral, it just looks like it; it's more closely related to jellyfish.

Out in the open water, I still had moments of slight panic.  If I found myself far away and unable to see my friends, I immediately thought at how incredibly horrifying it would be to be lost at sea.  I had issues with my mask for a while (most likely because it was extremely cheap), but I still didn't give up.  I forced myself to keep trying, and I was able to stay out for quite a while.

In the end, I felt like I had really accomplished something.  Even though my friends didn't catch any fish, I felt like the trip had been a success.

Beach where we went snorkeling/spear fishing

La perle

It's really important to me to constantly be trying new things, especially things that have previously made me feel uneasy or hesitant.  From small things like dining alone to bigger things like snorkeling, I'm really stepping out of my comfort zone.  I feel like I'm becoming fearless in Martinique, like I can truly accomplish anything if I try.

It's not even about necessarily conquering your fears.  But I think that it's important for everyone, no matter what your situation in life, to try to overcome things that make you feel uncomfortable.  People get stuck in their routine and stick to what's familiar.

I'm trying to do exactly the opposite and let life take me wherever it can.